(*Music by Booker T Jones, lyrics by William Bell, Glo’s favourite version performed by Cream)
I am beginning to wonder whether this may become my family’s anthem. As if the financial debt this Government has already hung round my children’s unknowing necks wasn’t a bleak enough prospect for them, I am now reeling from the sobering fact that their secondary school education is imminently to be mangled through a rapid-response experiment described by an Edyookayshun Big-Wig as “the next right challenge”
It appears that the issue of a school which is failing to improve despite having been placed under Special Measures must be addressed, a solution immediately found and fully implemented by September 2010 and it was for this reason I sat in a school hall packed to the rafters with hundreds of other parents keen to hear from a panel of sharp-suited Government, OFSTED and LEA experts exactly how this would affect my children’s education. “Go ahead,” I thought to myself, “make my day.”
The details of this ‘next right challenge’ looked suspiciously like a fait accomplis thinly disguised as a ‘consultation’ session, during which the experts promised to answer questions from parents and to listen to and ‘take on board’ their views. At the end of the session, the vast audience of hand-wringing mummies and daddies was left in no doubt as to the experts’ preferred option and it was stressed, both verbally and by the use of the ubiquitous Powerpoint presentation, that DOING NOTHING was not an option at all. All the mummies and daddies were invited to submit views in writing within a month and told that the final decision will be made in the New Year. So there you have it; unless nice pink pigs really do sprout wings and take joyfully to the sky, my children’s school is to become part of something called a National Challenge Federation.
Apparently “The goal of the National Challenge is for every school to be a good school. The National Challenge commitment is that by 2011 there are no schools where fewer than 30% of pupils achieve at least 5 good GCSEs including English and maths. (…) Federation, which can be combined with a Trust, involves two or more schools coming together under one governing body and sharing the benefits of partnership, including shared teachers, resources and economies of scale. In the case of National Challenge, federation can address weaknesses in the National Challenge school’s leadership by allowing the strong school to take control of the shared governing body. …”
(Ah-ha. That explains the break-neck speed with which this ‘next right challenge’ is being introduced; Ed Balls wants it ‘sorted’ by 2011 and given that a Labour Government may not be in charge of steering this country’s education system into further drastic reform, he wants it ‘sorted’ PDQ.)
In response to some spirited questioning from agitated parents, a man from OFSTED and Big Wig both repeatedly cited a solitary example of how a Challenge Federation is working thrillingly well in a nearby city. Furthermore, no firm data regarding the success of such schemes could be produced, as it appears it’s all part of a radical new-thinking approach and in its early stages but the phrases ‘due diligence’, ‘best practice’ and ‘fit for purpose’ were all soothingly employed, so all the worried mummies and daddies calmed down…..
I am describing the forthcoming overhaul of my children’s education for just one reason; it isn’t my children’s school that is under Special Measures. It is another secondary school, one with which my children’s school must join in a National Challenge Federation within which all the children of the two schools must make the best of ‘the next right challenge’ and hope to come out with a few facts and figures lodged in their capable brains and a sprinkling of GCSEs to boot. The ‘key characteristics’ of this ‘next right challenge’ include the governing body to be able to “deploy available resources to maximum effect across the two schools; identify and implement changes to staff deployment and curriculum delivery to effect improvements in educational outcomes for students across the two schools; act in the interests of both schools, ensuring that standards are improved in each; share best practice; build upon the strengths of (School A) and use these to support and sustain improvement at (School B); provide opportunities for staff to gain a broader range of experience by working with young people in both schools.”
My children’s school is currently a good school, not wonderful, not outstanding, but good. I firmly believe it is the best of the frankly sorry bunch available locally and for that reason I have spent the last 4 years plodding patiently and repeatedly through the tedious application process to get them both places there. What it will be like in a year or in two’s time is anyone’s guess. I don’t know whether implemented changes to staff deployment and curriculum delivery will actually effect improvements in educational outcomes for students across the two schools and, I suspect, neither does anyone else. We’ll all just have to suck it and see. I expect I’ll find out how this latest experiment work has worked for my family at GCSE-result time in 2012. So good luck to them all, pupils, teachers and governing body alike; I hope it all goes swimmingly well and all the dear little children benefit from the bullet-pointed aims and objectives of this preferred option.
Sorry, I’ve got to go now – Clint Eastwood’s just arrived waving a Magnum .44 at me and asking me if I feel lucky…..